Universal Internet Currency: Combating Advertising on the Internet

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Photo by Fox on Unsplash

Ads. They are everywhere. They are laced into your social media streams — sometimes posing as “real people”. The precede and even intercede with video content. They interrupt the flow of your music streaming.

In fact, they interrupt everything.

Even if you “pay to remove ads”, that “blackmail money” rarely removes all advertising. Some content (which is never identified, by the way) will continue to have ads anyway — despite paying. See SiriusXM and Hulu for prime examples of “premium service” that still forces ads.

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Did you notice the fine print that says “Hulu (No Ads)” still has ads?

The solution, of course … run an ad blocker. Blocking ads used to be complicated (a trip to your HOSTS file and a constant update of ad servers) — but over time, blocking ads became two clicks of a button.

That’s where we are now — a crazy war between content providers who desperately want the system to continue to be the same as it was and consumers that have had the genie let out of the bottle that simply won’t stand for it any more.

Wait, that sounds familiar to you? It should. It is exactly what happened to the music industry when Napster gave people free music. The music industry didn’t give up easily — but in the end, the people got what they wanted.

Right now, the internet is going through the Five Stages of Grief regarding what is inevitably the death of internet advertising.

  • Denial: They didn’t think this was a big deal. They thought that the 1% of blockers wouldn’t grow to a point where it compromised their business model — so they did nothing. They also deny that ads can spread malware and dramatically slow down the browsing experience almost exponentially; especially for mobile users.
  • Anger: Once the numbers got bad? They went on the offensive. Content — even complete websites — were blocked outright with almost offensive messages shoved down the visitors’ throats.
  • Depression: When anger failed to yield the results they wanted, the internet publishing organizations went into a depression. A lot of content that relied too heavily on ad revenue simply closed their doors. Others started laying people off. It was a no-good-very-bad-day for them.
  • Bargaining: This is the stage we’re at now. Endless messages begging you to please, PLEASE whitelist their website or imploring you to save “real news on the internet” by trying out a $1 subscription for your first month.
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The New York Times is bargaining with you. You will see similar versions of this message everywhere … If you’re blocking ads, of course.
  • Acceptance: We’re not here yet — but it is inevitable; the medium will conform to the desires of the people or die without figuring out how to monetize the internet without advertising.

Before you close this article (or worse, comment with links to “ad blocking is stealing” articles — that I can’t see because I’m blocking ads) I’m not a champion of circumventing revenue streams for high quality content. Unfortunately, the internet is loaded with low quality content, IP theft that makes money via advertising and of course tons of nefarious other uses that use ads to make money on someone else’s work.

I’m also not going to let the industry nickle and dime me for $4.99 a month across the dozens of websites I view every month.

I actually heard a publisher talking about how incredulous it was that someone would pay for a premium ad blocker, but not pay to get access to his content. Simple answer — one small fee blocks ads everywhere. One re-occurring monthly fee gets me the few articles a month I read on your site. Look up “ROI” and the answer to the conundrum is simple.

I’m going to leave out all the argument that “the right ads are ok” and “there are no other ways to monetize my content” and all that nonsense. Pick a side of the aisle and we could chew all day on the merits and demerits of ads vs ad blocking.

The bottom line is — ad blockers aren’t going anywhere; in fact, they are getting better and better all the time. All those trendy buzzwords like “AI” and “machine learning” are coming to eat your advertising lunch and all the bargaining in the world isn’t going to change the minds of the masses.

Easier to block than to conform; free or paid.

So if the death of internet advertising is indeed inevitable (as the music industry learned all too well) — how about we stop the fighting and work on a solution?

On my podcast Passenger Seat Radio I have addressed this issue many times. I’ve given the industry a solution I believe can make everyone happy; publishers gets paid, loyal visitors can compensate the content they love easily, ads can go away across the board and content providers that are looking to make money without quality content get punished.

Sounds like a proverbial win-win scenario. But since my podcast listener-ship is small, I’ll bring it here to the amazing Medium.

Why are people willing to pay for content they can easily get for free? You can get free music, free movies, free television with a couple of Google searches — yet people are willing to pay for Netflix, Spotify and other purveyors of digital content (at least for now). Napster proved that people wanted FREE music and ethics be damned; if it was easy enough, they will do it.

The secret is in a delicate balance of price, content and ease of use. A small re-occurring fee for content from thousands of sources that bill you discreetly every month. People believe in digital utopia (which isn’t real, but that’s in another article) — and they demand it or they can take their business elsewhere.

So if Netflix can charge a monthly fee, why is it out of line to ask someone to subscribe monthly to the Washington Post? Even if it is just $1 a month — the level of effort to maintain subscriptions and the inevitable cost of paying that fee across ALL the internet content providers you consume.

If the average user partakes in 30 sources of information monthly — and the cost of subscription to each source is $1 per month (by the way, none of those sources are just $1 per month — Washington Post is $10 a month alone) … that’s $30 per month. That’s Netflix and Hulu combined. People aren’t going to see that as value — especially since they probably only consume a few articles from those sources each month. A Netflix subscriber couldn’t consume all the content they are getting for $15 a month in the course of that month .. heck, year or even decade.

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Washington Post’s subscription model.

Consumers are getting fed up with being sliced and diced financially over endless numbers of content providers. It used to be with one or two providers, you got almost everything. Now content owners want their piece of the pie. Disney is pulling out their stuff from Netflix. CBS isn’t letting their premium content off their “All Access” plan. Each one of these content owners wants another $5 (or more) a month out of your pocket. Makes cable look like a better deal sometimes.

This slicing and dicing isn’t going to work for internet content publishers either. That model isn’t going to fly — so we need a different solution.

Enter the Universal Internet Currency (UIC for short). This is part digital currency, part subscription model and a global means to monetize ANY content in an a la cart methodology that keeps content providers honest and paid — while giving the consumers what they want; easy, cheap access to content they don’t have to worry about.

Here is how it works.

Every month, the consumer tosses money into a “kitty” — their UIC Wallet(tm) for example. Of course, this is tied to a financial institution that can be filled or augmented whenever necessary. Let’s use the Washington Post model of $10 per month.

Each time the consumer goes to the “content well”, they are debited a very small fee (something about what a publisher makes on an advertising impression or possibly a cold “click through”; I’ve been out of the advertising game awhile so things have probably changed) — along the lines of perhaps $.03 per visit to the well. If the average consumer visits that site every day for an article, the publisher makes .03 x 30 or $.90; which is debited from the consumer.

That’s about 10–11 daily sources a consumer can consume with that $10 “subscription kitty” being put aside every month. The great part is that the money rolls over every month and if you don’t visit two or three of those sites every day, you aren’t paying for it (like you would with a subscription to the Washington Post).

Would you spend $10 per month to kill advertising? I would. I think a lot of people would.

Of course, no matter how fair and equitable you make it … some people simply don’t believe in paying for anything.

Oh sure, there are some logistic challenges in my proposal — but it is at least a means of moving forward; getting people what they want and getting content providers paid without holding a virtual cup out every time you visit.

Hell, I’d pay $10 a month to get rid of the “Say, we notice you’re using an ad blocker” message.

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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